The spices of India amaze me, says MasterChef Australia winner

Brent Owens, winner of MasterChef Australia Season 6, who is currently in the city to promote Season 7, speaks about his culinary aspirations while sipping on cutting chai

Q. How are you dealing with your celebrity status post the win?
A. You get tired but it is fun. Walking the streets and people wanting to take photos with you was strange in the beginning, but it's all part of the experience.

Brent OwensOwens stood out due to his style choices, be it wearing a onesie on the show or for tying his hair in a man bun (which is now gone). “It was both a style and hygiene thing. My hair was long, so I had to tie it up,” he told us. pic/nimesh dave

Q. When did you start taking food seriously?
A. When I was about 19 or 20 (he is 25 now), I started watching a lot of food shows and that showed me a different side of food. They gave me an insight into the world of food and that's where my love started.

Q. What did you learn from your competitors?
A. Each individual taught me a lot. And, I sort of used their strengths for my knowledge, which was handy. Someone like Amy (Shields) who you wouldn't really pick as a great friend if I saw her on the street, but Amy became like the mother on the show; I would go to her if I had an issue and she would come to me for the same thing. They are competitors but they are
also family.

Q. Who, do you think, were the strongest contenders?
A. I think Ben (MacDonald) from New Zealand was very knowled-geable about food, so was Amy. Jamie (Fleming) was very creative while Emelia (Jackson) was great at desserts. It depends on what the challenge was and that's what counted.

Q. Who was the coolest judge to be around and who was the strictest?
A. At the start, George (Calombaris) was a bit intimidating. He has got this look in his eyes where you feel, 'Oh god! I just can't work, I am scared!' But with time, we became friends and they were all a ball of fun. They were fun on camera and off camera. They make sure that we enjoy as much as they do.

Q. What's your ultimate aim to achieve in the food industry?
A. In Australia, there is a gap in the market for fresh packaged food; almost like fast food but healthy. Australians are time-strapped and they want things on-the-go. And to give them that healthy option is something that I believe in, as I believe in healthy eating. When I have the time to commit to it, it will be available in stores and cafés and I am hoping to do a line of them.

Q. The Australian restaurant landscape is very competitive. For an entrant, what will you have to keep in mind to start a restaurant?
A. The thing with Australia and especially Melbourne, Victoria, where I am from, is that food is everywhere. It could well be the food capital of the world, almost. Every corner has a café or a restaurant with a new one opening in the next corner. To break into that market is tough; the main thing is to keep up with trends. In Australia, food trends change a lot.

Q. What would you consider as signature Australian food?
A. (Laughs) Australia doesn't have very much (of its own cuisine) apart from Tim Tams and Vegemite! The cultural influences really define our food.

Q. Which country would you like to visit to experience their food?
A. I would really like to go to Spain and learn their traditional food. I love Mexican food, but I have been to Mexico.

Q. What kind of food are you still wary of cooking?
A. Baking and pastries are really difficult for me. I have practised it a lot and I enjoy eating it. I am confident now, but it's still a bit scary because if it doesn't work, it doesn't work at all.

Q. Apart from Pani Puri (that you mentioned earlier), have you sampled Indian food, especially in Australia?
A. I have eaten at a few Indian places; there is a nice restaurant called Tonka that does modern Indian food. I make chai, and chai ice cream at home, too. The spices of India amaze me — how it's tempered and diversified. I have never eaten an Indian dessert. I am looking forward to trying all that's available while I am here. MasterChef Australia Season 7 will air on Star World Premiere HD in May 2015.

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